Of the 14 Grade 1 events spread across the four days of the magnificent Cheltenham Festival, the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle enjoys a special place in the hearts of punters. After a year of waiting, endless preview nights, and hours poring over the final betting selections, this 2m event kicks off the action at the most anticipated meeting in the business. Cue the signature roar as the starter lowers the flag, and racing’s greatest celebration begins.
Given the nature of the race, less is known about the field of contenders compared to championship-level contests such as the Champion Hurdle or Gold Cup. This factor tends to make the spectacular performances even more breathtaking as the newest stars in the game announce themselves to the racing world. The 21st century alone has witnessed sizzling displays from brilliant horses such as Douvan, Vautour, Altior and Constitution Hill – all runners who went on to considerable success throughout their careers.
Each year, many of the field will arrive at Prestbury Park riding a wave of hype, but it is here where the class of a runner is confirmed. Some bubbles will inevitably burst, whilst other contenders demonstrate that their previous displays merely hinted at their ability. But what kind of horse does it take to prevail in race one on the opening day?
Here we look back at the 23 editions of the race between 2000 and 2023 (sadly there was no race in 2001 as a result of the foot and mouth outbreak at the time). We will pick out a selection of stats and trends which may assist in identifying the most likely contenders, or at least give you a hand narrowing down your options.
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle: Age Trends
Falling into the Novice Hurdle category, this Grade 1 affair will always attract a relatively young field. The race is open to all runners aged four and older, but none quite so young have landed the prize since Hors La Loi III in 1999. At the other end of the spectrum, Beau Caprice is the oldest winner in the history of the race, having prevailed at the grand old age of 12 in 1966. It is, of course, unusual to even see anything of that age going to post normally. The current century has seen a strong bias towards those aged five or six, with 20 of 23 winners (86.96%) falling into that bracket.
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle: Trainer Stats
This has been a pretty open affair in the current century, with the 23 editions of the race in our sample shared amongst 14 different trainers. Nevertheless, the big guns have climbed to the top of the standings, headed by the King of Cheltenham, Willie Mullins. The Irish ace has twice as many wins as his nearest challenger – Britain’s 2m specialist, Nicky Henderson. Having also won the opener with Tourist Attraction in 1997, Mullins is out on his own as the most successful trainer in the history of the race.
In common with many events at the meeting, the Irish lead the way in the trainer battle, with 14 wins, compared to nine for the home team.
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle: Finishing Position Last Time Out
One of the most informative trends is found when looking at the winner’s performance on their previous outing. Logic would suggest that arriving on the back of a win ought to count as a positive. That theory is supported by the results, with 20 of 23 winners (86.96%) having also finished in front on their most recent start.
Of those 20, 15 had won impressively by two lengths or more. 22 of 23 finished in the first three, with the only exception being Labaik, who all but refused to race, before his victory in 2016.
Number of Hurdles Runs
It makes sense that few runners would be asked to tackle the hottest 2m novice event of the year on their hurdling debut. When looking at the results in our timeframe, all winners had at least two previous outings over hurdles to their name. 21 of 23 (91.30%) had between two and five runs, with four appearing to be the magic number.
In terms of specific prep races, not too many stand out from the crowd, with winners taking various routes into the race. The only real standout contest is the Tattersalls Ireland Novice Hurdle (formerly known as the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle and Deloitte Novice Hurdle), which has provided six winners over this period.
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle: Fate of the Favourite
Simply backing the market leader hasn’t provided a road to riches in this race of late. Seven favourites or joint favourites came home in front between 2000 and 2023, representing a strike rate of 30%, which is close to the average across all horse races. However, we have seen some well-backed favourites in this one a £1 level stakes bet on the jolly over this period would have returned a loss of £3.15.
15 of 23 winners returned a single-figure SP, and five were priced between 10/1 and 16/1. The big shocks came with the 20/1 success of Arcalis (2005), the 25/1 triumph of Labaik (2017), and the 40/1 victory of the Willie Mullins-trained Ebaziyan (2007).
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle: Other Stats
- Only three jockeys rode the winner on more than one occasion over this period, namely Paul Carberry (two wins), Nico de Boinville (three) and Ruby Walsh, who boasts the all-time lead with six wins
- 20 of 23 winners were arriving following a break of 66 days or less –
- 10 of 23 winners had already won in Grade 1 company –
- Only 5 of 23 had run in the previous year’s Champion Bumper, with Champagne Fever being the only horse to do the double –
- Very little to go on for pedigree fans, with the 23 winners sired by 23 different stallions –